The population of Africa is approximately 650 million (World Bank, 1995b). About two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas and derives its main income from agriculture. In some countries-such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda-rural population makes up more than 80% of the total. Agriculture is the fundamental economic activity in these countries; although it accounts on average for only about 20-30% of GDP, agriculture contributes the largest share of total exports (Cleaver and Schreiber, 1994).
Cultivated land per capita varies considerably across the continent, reflecting the uneven distribution of population (for example, low density in the Congo basin but high in the east African Highlands) as well as low levels of technology and the unsuitability of wide areas for farming. Dependence on shifting cultivation makes the area needed for cropland high. Scarcity of good land, coupled with soil degradation and low levels of inputs and technology, results in increasing deficits in food production. The predominance of rain-fed subsistence agriculture and, across southern Africa, overdependence on (water-demanding) maize has helped ensure that food security for most of the continent is inextricably linked to the quality of each rainy season. In dryland regions, crop and livestock production are extremely susceptible to seasonal rainfall variability and, as a result, have shown considerable volatility in recent years. Drought shock, however, extends well beyond the confines of agriculture (crop) and livestock production, partly because of the important roles these two sectors play in the overall economies of many African states. Crop and livestock production are major employers and make significant contributions to GDP and export earnings. They also are major sources of raw materials for industries such as textiles, food processing, and fuel refining. On the other hand, they are major markets for other industries such as machinery, animal feeds, fuel, and fertilizer producers (Gibberd et al., 1996).
Of the 30 poorest countries of the world, 22 are African (World Bank, 1996). The average income level in sub-Saharan Africa in 1993 was $520 per capita, and the average growth rate per capita was negative (-0.8% per year from 1980 to 1993). By the year 2000, the number of poor in Africa is projected to increase to an estimated 265 million-which would represent more than 40% of the continent's population (World Bank, 1990). In Africa, poverty is linked to the environment in complex ways, particularly in economies that are based on exploitation of natural resources. Degradation of these resources reduces the productivity of poor persons, who most rely on them, and makes poor communities even more susceptible to extreme events (whether meteorological, economic, or political in origin) (World Bank, 1996). Poverty is exacerbated by a demographic profile that continues to record an annual population growth rate of just under 3%, the highest in the world (WRI, 1994). As a result, the population in many African countries will continue to double every 20 to 30 years, well into the 21st century. However, the high incidence of incurable diseases-such as malaria, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis B-may modify this estimate.
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